“Every public gesture and word of the Holy Father tends to have meaning,” says Charles J. Chaput, the archbishop of Philadelphia. “So what was the pope saying with this symbolism as he began his new ministry?” Chaput believes Pope Francis focus is the persecuted church:
The Chaldean and Syriac Catholic Churches of Iraq and Syria, while differing in rite and tradition from the Latin West, are integral members of the universal Catholic Church, in full communion with the bishop of Rome. The persecution they and other Middle Eastern Christians now suffer—so severe it threatens their continued existence in their ancient homelands—is a bitter wound for the Church and an unavoidable concern for the Holy Father.
Of the million or so Christians living in Iraq a decade ago, fewer than half likely remain. During this period, seventy Iraqi Christian churches were attacked. Christian laity and clergy have faced relentless violence. Between 2003 and May 2012, some nine hundred Christians were killed. Another two hundred were kidnapped, tortured, and released for ransom, according to the Iraq-based Hammurabi Organization for Human Rights.
Rienzi, an assistant professor at the Columbus School of Law at The Catholic University of America, writes in direct response to the federal government’s HHS contraception mandate, focusing on the religious liberty challenges faced by for-profit companies. As Rienzi argues, imposing such penalties requires “singling out religion for disfavored treatment in ways forbidden by the Free Exercise Clause and federal law.”
From the abstract:
Litigation over the HHS contraceptive mandate has raised the question whether a for-profit business and its owner can engage in religious exercise under federal law. The federal government has argued, and some courts have found, that the activities of a profit-making business are ineligible for religious freedom protection.
This article offers a comprehensive look at the relationship between profit-making and religious liberty, arguing that the act of earning money does not preclude profit-making businesses and their owners from engaging in protected religious exercise.
Many religions impose, and at least some businesses follow, religious requirements for the conduct of profit-making businesses. Thus businesses can be observed to engage in actions that are obviously motivated by religious beliefs: from preparing food according to ancient Jewish religious laws, to seeking out loans that comply with Islamic legal requirements, to encouraging people to “know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.” These actions easily qualify as exercises of religion. (more…)
The Emperor Constantine with his mother Helen, both traditionally commemorated as saints of the Church.
This month marks the 1,700th anniversary of the Edict of Milan. While much debate surrounds the relationship of Church and state in Christian Rome, even key figures like the Emperor Constantine (traditionally considered a saint by both East and West), the Edict of Milan is something that anyone who values liberty, religious liberty in particular, ought to commemorate as a monumental achievement. While a previous edict in 311 had offered some toleration to Christians, who spent almost their first 300 years having to fear for their lives any one of many local outbreaks of persecution that periodically plagued Pagan Rome, the Edict of Milan for the first time granted the Church the same status, including property rights, as other religions. It did not establish Christianity as the state religion (that would not happen until the end of the fourth century). Even then, the history, like all history, is messy. Often different emperors had widely different practical perspectives toward their role (or lack thereof) in religion. As Lord Acton has stated, liberty is the “delicate fruit of a mature civilization,” and that includes religious liberty and Christian Rome. In all cases, it was not a total separation of Church and state, but it was an achievement, a maturation if only for a time, that marked the end of centuries of martyrdom for Christians in the Roman (now Byzantine) empire. (more…)
Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, met with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Oct. 16 after the session of the Synod of Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church.
In an interview for Acton’s Religion & Liberty quarterly, the Russian Orthodox bishop in charge of external affairs for the Moscow Patriarchate, Metropolitan Hilarion (Alfeyev) of Volokolamsk, warned that that the situation for the Christian population of Syria has deteriorated to an alarming degree. Hilarion compared the situation today, after almost two years of fighting in Syria, as analogous to Iraq, which saw a virtual depopulation of Christians following the U.S. invasion in 2003.
The Russian Orthodox Church has been among the most active witnesses against Christian persecution around the world, particularly in the Balkans, North Africa and the Middle East. In November 2011, Kirill, the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, visited Syria and Lebanon. In a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Kirill said that he shared a concern with Assad about the “spread of religious radicalism that threatens the integrity of the Arab world.”
That sentiment has been expressed widely in Christian communities in Syria — some of them dating to apostolic times — as civil war has progressively taken a heavy toll. Now almost two years on, as many as 30,000 people may have perished. Despite having few illusions about the nature of Assad’s autocratic rule, many Christians feared that the Islamist groups, involved in what the West initially viewed as another “Arab Spring” uprising, would eventually turn on them. Indeed this is what has happened. Entire Christian villages have been depopulated, churches desecrated, and many brutal killings have taken place at the hands of the “Arab Spring” insurgents. Most recently, Fr. Fadi Haddad, an Orthodox priest, was found murdered with brutal marks of torture on his remains. Car bomb attacks are now being waged against Christian neighborhoods. (See these backgrounders on the Syrian crisis from the Congressional Research Service and the Council on Foreign Relations). (more…)
In what could prove a landmark ruling for oppressed Christians, the European Court of Justice has ruled that people who are persecuted in their native countries due to their religion have the right to apply for asylum in Europe.
Confirming the ruling of a German court, the European Court of Justice – the highest court within the EU – decided that if a person’s right to public worship was ‘gravely infringed’ – they should be granted asylum.
Furthermore, the Court ruled that being limited to private prayer was not a legitimate alternative to the inherent right of public worship – rejecting the notion that religious minorities should limit their profile in the public sphere.
[. . .]
Following the court ruling, Lord Alton told the Institute of the potential consequences: “For too long European nations have continued with a policy of apathy towards the persecution of Christian minorities in distant lands. However, with the possibility of religious communities now fleeing to Europe for asylum, Western governments may finally be spurred into tackling the root cause.
World Politics Reviewrecently interviewed Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg about the Vatican’s foreign policymaking:
WPR: What are the main policy initiatives that the Vatican is currently promoting on the international stage, and how receptive are other nations to its interests?
Gregg: At present, one major initiative concerns the promotion of religious liberty. The Holy See believes this right is poorly recognized in many nations — especially in the Middle East and China — and that Christians are suffering as a direct result. The Holy See is also concerned that religious liberty is being eroded in some Western nations in the sense a number of governments now prefer to speak of “freedom of worship,” which has a more restrictive meaning.
In his magisterial work on the twentieth century, Modern Times, historian Paul Johnson highlights how in the 1920s Germany transformed from being “exceptionally law-abiding into an exceptionally violent society.” A key factor, according to Johnson, was an erosion of the rule of law and partisan acceptance of political violence against groups disdained by the State. Johnson notes that from 1912-1922, there were 354 murders by the Right (proto-Nazis) and 22 by the Left (Marxists).
Those responsible for the every one of the left-wing murders were brought to court; ten were executed and twenty-eight others received sentences averaging fifteen years. Of the right-wing murders, 326 were never solved; fifty killers confessed, but of these more than half were acquitted despite confessions and twenty-four received sentences averaging four months.
The conditions that lead to the rise of Nazism in Germany are complex and varied. But this tolerance by the state of several hundred murders certainly aided in the creation of a state that would, within a decade, sponsor the murder of several millions. As history has repeatedly revealed to us, government hostility to specific groups is highly correlated with social hostility to those same groups.
That lesson is reinforced by the latest Pew Study on the “Rising Tide of Restrictions on Liberty.” As their research shows, “higher scores on the Government Restrictions Index are associated with higher scores on the Social Hostilities Index and vice versa. This means that, in general, it is rare for countries that score high on one index to be low on the other.”
Immediately after watching For Greater Glory, I found myself struggling to appreciate the myriad good intentions, talents and the $40 million that went into making it. Unlike the Cristeros who fought against the Mexican government, however, my efforts ultimately were unsuccessful.
The film opened on a relatively limited 757 screens this past weekend, grossing $1.8 million and earning the No. 10 position of all films currently in theatrical release. Additionally, the film reportedly has been doing boffo at the Mexican box office. Clearly, word of mouth and the temperament of the times are driving folks to see a movie wherein good overcomes evil, and, more specifically, militarily enforced secularism is defeated by religiously faithful armed-to-the-teeth underdogs.
It’s not that the subject matter of For Greater Glory isn’t historically accurate and compelling. Nearly 10 years after the Mexican Revolution, President Plutarco Calles decides to enforce the anti-clerical laws written into the 1917 Mexican Constitution. Calles (portrayed blandly if not refreshingly free of Snidely Whiplash mustache-twirling by the otherwise fine actor and recording artist Ruben Blades) forced not only the closure of Catholic schools, but also the expulsion of foreign clergy. His oppression hat-trick was completed by the government confiscation of Church property. When the archbishop of Mexico City expressed his concerns, Calles had his agents bomb the archbishop’s home and the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe. (more…)
Despite the rise of globalization and democracy, violent persecution of Christians, Jews, and other religious minorities is still shockingly common in many parts of the world. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has released its latest survey of religious freedom and as Doug Bandow reports, it makes for grim reading:
Statement of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation October 29, 2011 Washington, DC The Plight of Churches in the Middle East
The “Arab Spring” is unleashing forces that are having a devastating effect on the Christian communities of the Middle East. Our Churches in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine report disturbing developments such as destruction of churches and massacres of innocent civilians that cause us grave concern. Many of our church leaders are calling Christians and all people of good will to stand in solidarity with the members of these ancient indigenous communities. In unity with them and each other, we the members of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, gathered October 27-29, 2011, add our voice to their call.
We are concerned for our fellow Christians who, in the face of daunting challenges, struggle to maintain a necessary witness to Christ in their homelands. United with them in prayer and solidarity, we ask our fellow Christians living in the West to take time to develop a more realistic appreciation of their predicament. We ask our political leaders to exert more pressure where it can protect these Churches, many of which have survived centuries of hardship but now stand on the verge of disappearing completely.
When one part of the body suffers, all suffer (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26). As Christians in the West, we therefore have the vital responsibility to respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters who live in fear for their lives and communities at this moment. As Orthodox and Catholic Christians we share this responsibility and this concern together.
Copts are protesting government foot-dragging in the investigation of the Oct. 9 Maspero massacre that killed more than two dozen protesters. Al Ahram reports that Copts are still grieving and many “cannot get past the nightmare of 9 October’s carnage, or the fear of further attacks on churches.” Nadia, a Copt woman who was interviewed by the newspaper as she entered Mar Girgis Church in Heliopolis, fears for her family:
For me, the question is not one of opening closed churches or giving us license to build more churches; the question is rather that when I go to pray on Sundays I cannot but think would there be an attack on the church when I am there with my kids.
On The Hill newspaper, Dina Guirguis points to “mounting pressure in the last four decades” directed at the Coptic community, which represents 10 percent of Egypt’s population. This year the attacks have taken a terrible toll:
… in 2011 alone, before the Maspero massacre, Copts had been the target of 33 sectarian attacks, 12 of which involved an attack on a church, leaving a total of 49 dead. Counting the bombing of an Alexandria church on New Year’s Eve, which added an additional 23 casualties, the death toll rose to 72, with dozens injured and a number of Christian homes and properties burned down. After Maspero, the death toll of Egypt’s sectarian violence rises to 97, with over 400 injured–and immeasurable psychological damage.
For years, rights groups have decried the Egyptian state’s complicity in the growing sectarianism targeting Egypt’s vulnerable religious minorities, but had held hopes high after Egypt’s peaceful revolution that had toppled a brutal dictator of 30 years. Now, the self-proclaimed “guardians of that revolution,” Egypt’s military rulers—SCAF—have extinguished hopes for genuine equality for all of Egypt’s “children” by itself undertaking this heinous massacre in cold blood, and scheming a cover up that would make Mubarak proud, indicating that the repressive ways of the past are alive and well in post-Mubarak Egypt.
Here’s an interview with a UK-based Coptic bishop, recorded last month: